Thursday, January 25, 2007

Gaijin and Garbage

A couple of days ago Joseph Coleman wrote in the Japan Times about the Japanese-Brazilian population in Gunma Prefecture. Several years ago, in response to a labor shortage, the Japanese government allowed descendants of Japanese immigrants to Brazil to come and work in this country. I guess the thinking was that if they looked Japanese and had Japanese blood running through their veins, they must be okay. Well, as it turns out, those raised in Brazil are a little bit different. According to the Japanese-Japanese residents of Gunma, those Brazilians play their music too loud, don't file tax returns, and - this is mentioned more than once - don't sort their garbage properly.

My mother-in-law says the same thing about me. When we moved in here, she took it upon herself to take out our garbage. She is the keeper of the complicated garbage calendar,which tells you which two days of the month you can put out your plastic trash, etc. I figured that since she has nothing to do but hang out and take down our laundry, I would leave the task to her. (Besides, when I did take the initiative and dump the trash myself in order to avoid her constant complaints about my garbage sorting, she told me to leave the job to her.) Also, it's a safe way for her to pick on me. I don't get all riled up when she points out some mistake I've made in trash disposal, as I do when she criticizes my child-rearing, for example. The other day, my mother-in-law who is in reasonably good health and has no life-threatening diseases, told me that I need to learn how to sort garbage properly so that I will be able to do it after she dies! Little does she know that her son, the Japanese guy, is the one who tosses plastic bottles and rotten vegetables into the combustibles.

So anyway, the overwhelming stereotype is that foreigners don't sort garbage properly. Sorting burnables from non-burnables and recyclable from non-recyclable is good and all, but I doubt that most Japanese who complain are thinking about the environment. After all, this is a country where people leave their empty cars running while they run into a shop to buy a pack of cigarettes or whatever. And there is garbage all over Mt. Fuji, which is supposedly a sacred mountain. I think it is just a sign of pettiness, an easy way to complain about foreigners.

Hisashi Toshioka of the Justice Ministry's Immigration Bureau said, " Everybody, I think, is agreed on one thing: We want to attract the 'good' foreigners, and keep out the 'bad' ones."

Meanwhile, the mayor of Oizumi, Gunma, says, "We want people to learn our rules before coming here."

So to all you persecuted Somali Bantus out there who are thinking of coming to Japan:
Learn how to sort the garbage!

Wednesday, January 24, 2007


Today there was a sankanbi at my son's school. The first grade parents were invited to watch a music class conducted in English by a Canadian teacher. They started out with some rhythmic clapping, and then did some singing and dancing along with CDs. One of the songs was by the Wiggles, from a video that Jio and Lilia watched as toddlers. Out of all the boys, my son seemed to be enjoying the class the most.

Afterward, there was a meeting in the classroom. The teacher talked and laughed and cried (when she was telling us that Miss L. the Taiwanese-born American teacher would be leaving at the end of February, and again when she was telling us how moved she was by seeing the first graders speaking English as they rehearsed "Snow White") and all of the parents were totally stoic. No one ever nods in agreement or chuckles at an anecdote or even cracks a smile. Mostly, the parents look down at the desks, or at the teacher without any expression whatsoever. Except for me. I wonder if it's considered more polite to show no reaction.

The teacher said that she has told the students to do 20 sit-ups a day at home. My son never does sit-ups, so this is the first I've heard of this. The exercise is supposed to strengthen them so they can speak from the diaphragm. Interesting.

Monday, January 22, 2007

How to Get Into Tokyo University

Someone has done research and written a book on the common characteristics of those admitted to Japan's most prestigious institute of higher learning, Tokyo University, a.k.a. Todai. According to this book, "Todai no Kodomo, Do Yatte Todai ni Itta no ka? (How Did the Neighbor's Kid Make it Into Todai)", just over 58 percent of Todai students ate breakfast and dinner with their fathers when they were between the ages of 4 and 7. Mark Schreiber writes in the Japan Times, "With dad presiding over the evening meal, the book theorizes, a young child's brain receives the highest quality stimulation - a considerably better way to promote his or her development than, say, sending preschool kids out to classes in English conversation or math." At first I bristled at this - what, only dads engage in intelligent conversation? - but then I realized that if two adults are present at the dinner table, they may talk with each other at a higher level than one adult and one or more kids. Just a theory. When I told my husband about this finding, he said, "What about that kid who started a fire because his dad was always nagging him about homework?" Perhaps a little more research is in order...

Sunday, January 21, 2007


When I was younger, up until I found out that my daughter was deaf, I listened to music a lot. I listened while I was cooking dinner or cleaning the house or just hanging out. But out of consideration for Lilia, I haven't listened to music much over the past few years. When she first got her hearing aids (which she was always tearing out and throwing across the room), I tried to keep quiet for her. I wanted her to be able to use whatever residual hearing she had for spoken words. Everything else was just noise. She has a cochlear implant now, but it's still difficult, if not impossible, for her to understand words spoken in a noisy room.

Happily, Yoshi got my an MP3 player for Christmas, so I'm listening to music more now. I'm remembering that certain songs make me happy and give me more energy, and help me get out of thinking-ruts. Also, being able to listen to music while walking encourages me to exercise more. I love walking past the sweet potato fields while Lloyd Cole and the Commotions segues into Snow Patrol segues into Tekameli segues into Neneh Cherry and so on. I hope someday that Lilia will get that kind of joy out of sound.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007


As you may recall, Jio and Lilia got DS Nintendo games for Christmas. We have limited DS use to one hour per day, after homework is done. During winter vacation, the kids were so eager to play, that they did their homework almost as soon as they woke up. Now that they're back in school, they've been doing their homework as soon as they get home. Which is great. But Daddy has decided that the DS Nintendo is A LOT OF FUN. He comes home at around 7 or 8PM, eats dinner, and then picks up one of the kids' games and plays till they go to bed. Instead of interacting with us, he sits there immersed in Mario, or the new "brain-training" software that he bought for himself to use on his children's DSes. Which is not so good. Also, Jio and Lilia start hovering and hanging over his shoulder, watching the action on the tiny screen as Dad plays. I can leave the room for an hour or more and no one misses me. Hopefully, this is all just a phase. Meanwhile, I'm sticking to novels.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Mama's Night Out

On Sunday afternoon I took the bus to Osaka to attend Tracy Slater's second Four Stories event. The Savannah Bar and Grill was being remodeled, so this time the readings were held at Portugalia, which served - you guessed it - Portugese cuisine. I went armed with a subway map of the city and an email message from Tracy, and I thought that since I'd been in the area seven years ago, I'd be able to find my way to the venue. Well, I wound up walking in circles around Umeda for about an hour and a half. I asked for directions five or six times, but Umeda is so darn confusing. Happily, I managed to stumble into the restaurant just before the readings began. This time, the readers were Jessica Goodfellow, who read an amazing essay about her obsessive-compulsive disorder following the near death of her son in a car crash; John Eidswick, who read a story called "Daughters of Hiroshima"; Canadian Michael Hoffman, who apparently flew down from Hokkaido to read from his new novel Nectar Fragments; and American-born Canadian Hillel Wright, a former commercial fisherman and hippie who read from his new novel about a Japanese manga artist who defies the emperor.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Death of a Mother

A couple of days ago, the mother of one of the players on my husband's baseball team passed away. My husband, of course, went to the wake that night. He told Jio and Lilia where he was going. He was dressed in a suit and they wondered. I have always been reluctant to bring up death with Jio, especially, because he is so sensitive. When he was younger, I skipped over Babar's mother's death while reading the book, and phrases such as "dead tired" because he became so alarmed at hearing them. He started asking me questions about the baseball player's mother's death. I remember being that age, and being terrified of my own mother dying, and how promises of heaven or talk of the cycle of nature didn't help at all. I told Jio that I would do my best to stay healthy. Recently, I have been walking almost every day and I'm trying to eat better. And, because death is a part of life whether we like it or not, I've stopped skipping passages about death in books when I read aloud.

Sunday, January 07, 2007


Today we decided to give bowling a try. Jio had seen it on TV and thought it looked fun. Yoshi thought that taking Lilia would be exhausting, but I thought we needed to at least try to let her experience bowling. So we went to the noisy, smoky bowling alley. It was very crowded - lots of 20-year-olds decked out in suits or kimono (well, one young woman), who'd obviously been at some official Coming of Age event. (Coming of Age Day is tomorrow.) We had to wait 40 minutes for a lane. Finally, we got settled in. We had gutter guards put up, otherwise the kids would have been in tears every time the ball went off track. Thanks to the guards, Jio's ball ricocheted a few times and he got a strike. Me, too. I wound up beating my husband at a sport for the first time ever. Lilia tried getting the ball down the lane in various ways. She tried pushing it while on her knees, but the ball moved so slowly I was afraid it would stop mid-way. Yoshi helped her a few times. She came away thinking that she'd won because she and her dad got a spare at the end. I didn't have the heart to set her straight.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Homework Hell

We're not doing so well with the homework. In order to get everything done, I calculated that Lilia would have to do at least three prints per day, one each of math, kanji, and Japanese. I didn't make her do any homework on Christmas or New Year's and maybe one other day. With only four days left of winter vacation, she still has ten pages of math to go, as well as about five or six pages each of Japanese and kanji. We were also supposed to do three sets of flashcards - addition, subtraction, fingerspelling about twenty words - every day, and I'm sad to say that at most we've managed one set of flashcards per day. We are on a major backslide here. Oh, and she had three or four charts to fill out, after brushing her teeth, helping out around the house, doing the flashcards, etc, as well as a daily diary and five days' worth of picture diaries. Also, a chart for her winter vacation reading including titles and her feelings about the book. On the plus side, we've been reading lots of books, something that we don't always seem to have time for when the usual homework eats up our evenings.

Special Needs Mama

In her new column, at Literary Mama Vicki Forman, mother of a multiply disabled boy, writes about the mother at the swings.

Monday, January 01, 2007


Happy New Year!

If you live in Japan, you know that New Year's Eve is a pretty low key affair here. At our house, it involves watching "Kohaku" on TV, until about midnight when my mother-in-law prepares soba noodles for health and longevity. Normally, I'm not all that into "Kohaku," which is a music program featuring singers who were big over the past year. They divide the singers into groups - red (the women) and white (the men) and at the end, the audience votes and a winner is declared. Lilia was quite impressed by the pink Southern Bellesque dress and hat on Ayumi Hamasaki, as well as those funky nail charms. But the act we were all waiting for was singer-songwriter Angela Aki, a hapa (American mom, Japanese dad) who was born and raised here, in Tokushima. She went to the same elementary school as my son! Her big hit song this year, "Home," was actually inspired by her memories of this area. She was dressed down in a red T-shirt with her name across the front and a denim skirt, so Lilia wasn't terribly interested. Anyway, she talked about her grandma and Tokushima, and her singing and piano-playing were lovely. She did us proud.